Several months ago, Tom Grant, general manager of The Club at Jones Creek, was eating dinner at a New York City restaurant when a man at the next table recognized the logo on his shirt.
"Are you from Jones Creek?" the man asked before explaining that he had played the course during a recent Masters week. "I'll be back next year!"
The tournament may actually be in Richmond County, but the benefits of name recognition spill well beyond those borders. While residents and visitors to the area scramble for coveted tournament badges, golf and hospitality-related businesses in Columbia County bask in the green glow of their more-famous neighbors.
"I think The Masters does so much for this area," Grant said. "No one has ever played The Club at Jones Creek in Evans, Ga. They have played The Club at Jones Creek in Augusta, Ga."
If a blurring of ZIP codes is the price of being associated with one of the biggest sporting events in the world, Grant will take it. His point echoes through neighborhoods and shopping centers throughout Martinez and Evans: "It's good for Columbia County."
While Richmond County deals with the scenic madness of crawling traffic, demolition derby-style parking and magic marker-scratched "I Need Badges!" signs, Columbia County pretties herself for the after-party.
"It's showtime," West Lake Country Club General Manager and Master Professional Mark Darnell said. "I think the fact that we have the tournament here every year, it's a built-in deadline to have all the odds and ends done. We try to have everything done the week before because we know we are going to have some exposure with a lot of guests. We're cognizant of the fact that it's a high profile time. We have a lot of members who play that week and they bring in VIP-type people, so we just make sure we have our best foot forward."
And if there's one thing VIP-type people know how to do, it's share the wealth. Golf courses and pro shops aren't the only Columbia County institutions that send their hospitable reputations out into the world with Masters guests.
Golf carts, such as this one parked in front of Bojangles on Washington Road, are a common sight during the Masters Tournament.
Photo by Jim Blaylock
French Market Grille West owner Chuck Baldwin said familiar faces - including a few PGA players - return to his Furys Ferry Road location every year, more than doubling business.
Baldwin said his staff enjoys the week as much as he does, if not for the potential Davis Love III sightings, probably for the unusually good tips dropped by the Ashworth-wearing crowd.
"It is a windfall, but you work for every penny of it," he said.
Visitors from some corporations prefer private gatherings to the waiting lists of area restaurants. Major corporate entities CBS, the PGA and Coca-Cola all throw private, invitation-only parties at Savannah Rapids Pavilion. Frank Neal, the facility's director of the community and leisure services division, said each company is in the third year of separate five-year contracts to hold such festivities at Savannah Rapids.
"They rent the entire building and they have it all day," Neal said. "So they can start early."
According to Neal, those three days of corporate patronage essentially make the facility's financial year.
Although hometown manufacturer Club Car - notable for the countless golf cars parked in front of businesses around town - doesn't host its own shindig, The Masters is an invaluable opportunity to nurture business relationships.
"It gives us an opportunity to spend time with our key customers," said Club Car president and CEO Phil Tralies. "It's time that we don't normally have over the course of the year in a more relaxed environment. I don't think we get any business because we give access to the tournament, but it's a way of saying 'Thank you."'
Among those companies that do indulge in a gala every now and then, many bring their own furnishings - linens, ice sculptures, chairs and as many as 1,000 guests to fill them - but require catering and other decorations from local businesses. And the Masters trickle continues.
Deborah Partridge, co-owner of Martina's Flowers and Gifts in Martinez, said 27 years of business experience has her company more than prepared for those 45 centerpiece-flower-arrangement orders. And the English ladies who buy armloads of silk and artificial flowers - uncommon fare in England - are pretty neat, too.
But as evidenced by the aforementioned Jones Creek fan in New York City, the most unique opportunity brought by The Masters is a 3,000-mile tee-shot of good vibes for Columbia County.
"We have people who live in Seattle that order from us and have it delivered back to Seattle because they're confident in our service," Partridge said. "They just pick up the phone or order online."
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